The Existence of a God or Gods is [Currently] Unknowable to Man
My argument: All knowledge is derived from observations. There are no observations that prove or disprove the existence of God. Therefore, one cannot know whether God(s) exists/exist.
Note: The argument is made on the assumption that the future may prove me wrong, but it nevertheless holds true to all that has been observed thus far.
A definition of God is required and it is unfortunate that hardly anyone agrees on any set criteria. My own definition of God is that it an undefinable entity, much for the same reasons that we cannot if God(s) exist. For the purpose of this argument, however, we shall use the idea of God(s) as creator(s) of our universe.
Round 1: Acceptance plus revisions/additions/clarification of definitions.
Round 2: Rebuttal
Round 3: Concluding remarks. (No new information)
1. “Are you defining knowledge as “justified true belief”?
If by justified you mean to say that the belief is based on logical reason, then yes.
2. “Is all knowledge strictly empirical?”
Yes, even Descartes’ ‘I think therefore I am’ requires on validation/knowledge from prior observations. That in itself is a discussion for another debate.
3. An observation is the formation of knowledge based on an interpretation of events unfolding in the physical world. If one wanted to be formal, one could argue an observation to be the process by which we learn to understand cause and effect in our world. Reflective knowledge always depends on initial observations. If you could think of an argument for God’s existence that went against this then it would invalidate the main point of my argument.
4. Whichever one suits you. A) I accept my opponent’s declaration of ‘She’ and will follow his decision.
5. Truth: that which is knowable through human reasoning; the understanding of causality, but the humility of knowing that we could be proven wrong in saying that the Sun will rise tomorrow; knowing that the only absolute is that there are no absolutes
My opponent has chosen to cast reasonable doubt on my claim that ‘all knowledge is derived from observations’. Unsurprisingly, our debate has turned to a discussion of epistemology. I look forward to seeing the contrast that emerges between our two differing perspectives.
My opponent is declaring that empiricism cannot satisfyingly explain all knowledge that is knowable to man and argues that it is possible for us to achieve knowledge via derivation from a coherent set of justified beliefs. I will admit that I am not familiar with the works of Quine or Lehrer, but it my opponent’s responsibility to ensure that his position is well established.
He has declared that beliefs (justified by reason = knowledge) can be derived from consciousness, experience and rational-cognitive faculties. He goes on to say that in order for these to be true, for an individual to know them, they must be coherent with one another. I will not disagree that our beliefs must be coherent with one another. But coherency depends on the validity of prior knowledge. We cannot reason that elephants are blue if we’ve never see a blue elephant. We cannot reason that blue elephants like the rain because we don’t even know if a blue elephant exists. We cannot know anything unless an observation has been made.
A ‘Leap of Faith’ cannot be considered knowledge. Nor can a belief such a teleology, which claims that the universe has a grand design. These are beliefs, not forms of knowledge. They are constructs that attempt to explain the big questions about this universe—none of which are answerable. No observation can be known about these big questions, and therefore no knowledge can be derived.
I have claimed that no knowledge can be known outside of observation. Everything that you know is based upon the initial observation that A is A. If you do not accept this as your starting claim than no knowledge is available to you. You cannot even claim that an elephant is gray because you haven’t accepted that an elephant is an elephant. Let’s apply this to the knowledge of God’s existence. What claim can I make about God? That She exists? Is that in enough in itself? No, because I have never observed logical evidence for God’s existence. I have not observed anything that would suggest that such an entity exists and nor have I observed anything that would suggest that the entity does not exist. That’s part of the reason that logic and rational thinking leads many to atheism (myself not included), because the burden of proof falls upon those trying to say that something exists.
In short: It is true that one can believe that God exists, but it is impossible to know that God exists.
A. I would like to begin with a quote from Nietzsche concerning knowledge:“The pride connected with knowing and sensing lies like a blinding fog over the eyes and senses of men, thus deceiving them concerning the value of existence. For this pride contains within itself the most flattering estimation of the value of knowing.” (“On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense”) Simply put, Nietzsche thought that knowledge was overrated. Too much in the 17th and 18th centuries had philosophers thought wrongly that knowledge via reason (or as my opponent calls it “logical reason”) was an absolute guarantor. What is the relevance of this harangue of mine? – My opponent implicitly would like us to backtrack to previous centuries, where reason dominated and was final arbiter of all things we can rightly believe. Is human knowledge really founded on reason? As Bertrand Russell eloquently put it:“Man is a rational animal. So at least we have been told. Throughout a long life I have searched diligently for evidence in favor of this statement. So far, I have not had the good fortune to come across it.” (Unpopular Essays). Therefore, I believe my opponent’s attempt to posit “logical reason” as the cornerstone of knowledge by means of defining belief as such, is an abominably archaic move.
B. My opponent formally defines observation as that “which we learn to understand cause and effect in our world.” My opponent’s definition of observation is seriously flawed. It posits observation as passive. When David Hume made causation psychological, he did away with the idea that causation is in the world. Rather causation is merely a cognitive ability of relating conjunctions within experience. (http://plato.stanford.edu...). In other words, observation can only be understood as psychological; causation is simply a cognitive construct; what is actually in experience is simply the relation (or conjunction) of objects “out there.” (See Humean “Billiard Ball” Argument http://www.sparknotes.com...) Therefore, I believe my opponent’s definition of “observation” is seriously flawed. I argue, observation is egocentric and subjective, dependent on an individual’s psychology. Observation is not solely sense-datum (as my opponent thinks), but the cognitive manipulation of sense datum by the imagination, reason, or other mental capacities etc. It should be worth noting that Hume in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, infers that knowledge of a God (or gods) is possible, since all knowledge is based on probability and not actuality.
C. I am surprised at my opponent’s view on Truth. How can my opponent argue that “the only absolute is that there are no absolutes” when by saying such thing he implicitly argues rational knowledge to be absolute as well? For only through reason can an individual come to the conclusion that “the only absolute etc.
A. My opponent agrees to definition of knowledge=“justified true belief.” There is a problem, however, with the notion that knowledge is “justified true belief”. This is explicitly seen in Gettier Problems:
B. I advocate the epistemological viewpoint of Coherentism; Justification is Knowledge.This Coherentist view displaces the traditional “Justified True Belief” that Gettier dismantled and which my opponent is a proponent thereof. My opponent misunderstands me and incorrectly claims that beliefs are justified by reason. Beliefs in-themselves do not have to be concocted by reason, but the beliefs do have to reasonably cohere with one another in a belief-system. Coherentists see knowledge as tangible and changing depending on justification of beliefs.
My opponent has attacked the faculty of reason. I do indeed accept reason as my final arbiter and I would hope that all men and women do as well. What distinguishes us from common animals? Part of it is our ambition, our drive to seek the eternal and visceral, but much more lies within our ability to use reason to build our worldview. I’ll come back to this later in my concluding remarks.
My opponent likes to use others to make points and I’d like my audience to understand how foolish this is. It’s much akin to saying that “this is true because so-and-so said this”. There’s no merit in this. Look to the reasons that my opponent has provided—there are none. Let our audience be the judge of who has put forward an “abominably archaic move”.
According to my opponent, my ‘cause & effect’ explanation of observation is “seriously flawed”. Why does my opponent believe so? Because it supposedly posits observation as passive. Pardon me, but that is not in the slightest what my definition necessitates. Observation can be passive and active. I do not actively notice that I’m hungry. I don’t actively swerve out of the way of an oncoming vehicle. In his own words, my opponent argues that “observation is egocentric and subjective, dependent on an individual’s psychology.” I’m a strict empiricist so it pained me to type that out. He continues to says that our observations stem from the manipulation of sense datum “by the imagination, reason, or other mental capacities, etc.” I will not argue that reason is involved, but imagination? Our imagination involves a process of randomly arranging sense datum into the unreasonable. Sometimes this lends itself to great mathematical/physical theories such as Einstein’s work. But this will only be the case when the imagined idea can be validated with sense datum. Otherwise, consider a unicorn. Would you be able to conjure some imagery if you didn’t know what a horse looked like? Everything we know depends entirely on sense datum. To know is to sense.
The reasoning behind my understanding of truth is because I recognize my humanity—it is possible that I am wrong and I am willing to accept that possibility. That is why I don’t believe in absolutes. Nothing would bother me more than ignoring my weakness as an observer. I hope that this quells my opponent’s qualms with my view on truth.
Kindly recall my notes on the faculty of reason. It is only fitting that I will base my finalized argument on what my opponent thought as being foolish. It will be up to our audience to determine whether or not reason is fallible.
Let’s suppose I wanted proof of god(s). Could anyone provide a piece of evidence that my reason would accept as natural and self-evident? Of course not, someone must try to convince you of gods by appealing to man-made conceptions of morality, existence, and reality. He must gather his imagination and make leaps of faith to construct his argument. No knowledge of god(s) is possible. We gather all information from sense-datum. I know that fire hurts because I have felt it. I know that Katy Perry is a sell-out because I’ve heard her music. I know the concept of dark because I have seen the Sun and other lights. I know that I exist because I can differentiate myself from my environment. Would a baby born without any senses (blind, mute, deaf, insensitive to touch) ever form a concept of self? Certainly not. It would know nothing because it has witnessed nothing. It can literally know nothing. Consider all the learning that a child does within its first few years of life. It mimics its parents’ voices; it looks around and takes everything in, and above all, is curious about everything. Try to imagine a child that does not care about his or her surroundings. Such a child, save for those who suffer from severe debilitating illnesses, does not exist.
I welcome my opponent to find a hole in my logic and it will be up to my audience to see if he successfully uncovers one.
I am somewhat bemused that my opponent is contemptuous about my references from “others.” No, contrary to my opponent’s vulgar opinion, I cite “others” because I can wholeheartedly admit that the great minds of the past have said things better than I can ever say myself. For all the pomp and talk he makes about “humility,” I would think my opponent would know better than to be so base in his attack towards my references.
My opponent has made reason the final arbiter. But there are so many things that are on par with reason. Is love solely defined by reason? I say nay.
Empiricism as he describes it is seriously flawed and the great thinkers of the past have shown why – Logical positivism tried to reduce everything to sense-datum and that was an utter failure (Quine); Noam Chomsky provided a nativistic-intuitive account of language that was not dependent on experience; Quantum Mechanics has shown that common experience doesn't give the full picture of nature; Frege and other Mathematicians have bitterly fought reductionism. I will stop there. My opponent wants to say that the human being is nothing but experience. That is absurd. Rather, sense-datum is dependent on the brain for its source of meaning in experience. What is a table but a table, only after it has been recognized by the brain. Without the brain, yes that object out-there is there in experience, but it’s not a table, and therefore means nothing. Experience is dependent on the brain for its meaning.
Now, what are we to say about the the blind, mentally handicap., etc.? Can they fully understand from experience? My opponent would be forced to say they are “less than human.” There is an interesting phenomenon known as Affective Blindsight, where – simply put – some blind folks are able to perceive emotion without any sense-datum informing them: "... investigate perceptual recognition of emotions in the absence of stimulus awareness in neurological populations with lesions to brain areas that are not primarily visual”"
As a “strict empiricist,” my opponent must be awfully embarrassed by the actual evidence that I have against him.
What my opponent says about imagination is silly. Imagination is just as crucial to being human as reason! (See Edmund Burke’s imagination as resemblance in “On the Sublime and the Beautiful) I will quote from Albert Einstein – since my opponent brought up Einstein…“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
My opponent has failed to criticize my case for Coherentism and therefore I assume he concedes my point. Now that I presented the case for Coherentism (i.e. Knowledge as justification), I will provide practical examples to show how one can have knowledge of things, including God.
(1) For a long time people thought the world was flat. In fact they knew the world was flat. Experience told them so. But then their knowledge changed. It was not that their initial knowledge was wrong, since reasoning from experience told them as much. Simply, their justification changed and therefore their knowledge changed.
(2) The Greeks knew nature by indentifying her with gods. They had no other way of knowing nature. Did they lack knowledge of nature? No, it was simply justified by different means. Science came along and justified nature in a new way and we have adopted that view.
Therefore, one may come to know God depending on whether one is justified in believing Her. To be justified, the belief system one adopts (e.g. Christian, Islam, etc.) must be intrinsically coherent with itself. Now, how those beliefs come about in the first place is irrelevant because we don't have access to absolute truth - as history has shown us, experience can be deviant and reason mischevious, making us believe that the world is flat or that the sun revolves around the earth.
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